Music comes to life when it must. It lies dormant and then blossoms in its creator at just the right moment. For Flyleaf, that was definitely the case when they began making their fourth full-length album and first for Loud & Proud Records, Between The Stars.
You could chalk it up to serendipity, but it simply feels meant to be. Seizing that spirit, the band—Kristen May [vocals], Sameer Bhattacharya [guitar], Jared Hartmann [guitar], Pat Seals [bass], and James Culpepper [drums]—immediately thrust themselves into the creative process.
“When we started writing this record, we had a common hardship,” admits Kristen. “Their singer had quit, and my previous band had broken up. As writers, we weren’t really sure how to move forward. At the same time, we all had this shared feeling of hope and a second chance. Music came out of those experiences from coming together and persevering through whatever doubts and trials we faced in our lives. It felt like home once we began making music.”
Sameer concurs, “It just worked. We were bringing in different perspectives and ideas from earlier times. It was a new beginning for all of us.”
That new beginning also entailed another first for the group. They sought out the production talents of the iconic Don Gilmore [Linkin Park, Three Days Grace, Avril Lavigne], holing up in a Los Angeles studio with him for a month during the spring of 2014. With Gilmore behind the board, they captured a certain “magic” that proved both passionate and palpable.
“Don’s always looking for the magic,” smiles Sameer. “It wasn’t about making things precise or perfect. For the first time, we went into the studio and let things happen. It was about the energy and the spontaneity of a song more than anything. It was a very refreshing approach.””
At the same time, the lyrics and Kristen’s delivery matched the heavy, hypnotic soundscapes that the band conjured up in the studio. Everything solidified into a clear and cohesive vision.
“It’s the most emotional album I’ve ever been a part of,” she declares. “There are some really heavy things and lyrics that weren’t easy to say. Everybody tried to be as raw as possible when we were writing and recording. That all came out in the songs.”
For proof, look no further than the first single “Set Me On Fire.” A brooding bass line builds along with an entrancing verse before igniting an undeniably incendiary chorus. For the lyrics, the band found inspiration within a rather unconventional place. “Pat, Kristen, and I had just finished reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent,” recalls Sameer. “Something in the story resonated with us. It’s that moment of finding yourself. Mark Twain said something really powerful. He wrote, ‘The two most important days of your life are the day you’re born and the day you find out why.’ ‘Set Me On Fire’ represents that realization.”
Kristen continues, “At first, I was really inspired by Divergent. This girl is out of her element, but she feels the most alive when she faces her fear. As we started writing the lyrics, it became a narrative of our lives. You’ve got to dive into the unknown, and you can do it when you’ve got someone with you who makes you feel like life is worth living.”
On the flip side, “Traitor” might just be the group’s heaviest salvo to date. Combining a delicately destructive riff and a punch-y refrain, it immediately hits. “It’s about knowing which people in your life aren’t good for you,” sighs the songstress.
Then, there’s “Thread,” which weaves together a spiraling melody and an uplifting message. “It’s another journey,” Sameer says. “It’s got a great message that sometimes you can’t only rely on yourself.”
“You feel lost and like you’re hanging by a thread,” continues Kristen. “In those moments of fear, anxiety, and depression, you’ve got to reach for something bigger than yourself. We all collaborated on that, and it just fit.”
Throughout this entire process, Flyleaf engaged its devout and diehard fan base. Launching an extensive PledgeMusic campaign, the quintet was able to crowd-fund some incredible opportunities for listeners. Fans got the chance to hang in the studio while the band worked on Between The Stars and had the opportunity to hear the music first at an exclusive listening party. That immersion will continue as they head out on the road in support of the record over the course of the next year.
Those fans have been with Flyleaf for the entire ride, beginning over a decade ago. Along the way, their self-titled debut went platinum and yielded the hit “All Around Me,” which also moved over one million digital downloads. The record spent 133 weeks in the Billboard Top 200, climbing to the Top 15 of the Rock Albums and Alternative Albums charts as well. Its follow-up, Memento Mori, saw the group crack the Top 10 of the Billboard Top 200. They’ve touched down for shows everywhere from Afghanistan, where they played for the troops, to sold out gigs around the U.S. alongside everybody from Rage Against The Machine to Deftones to Cage The Elephant.
Ultimately, that audience remains closer to the musicians’ hearts than ever before. “We’ve always felt like everybody else’s stories are just as important as ours are,” Sameer leaves off. “We’re in this together with each person who has supported us. This album is a reminder that we’re alive. Embrace life now. That’s a recurring theme since our inception. We want people to know they’re alive, they’re loved, and there’s hope. That’s what we want to share.”
Kristen concludes, “I hope it’s an album people can listen to for years to come. We put our hearts and souls into it, and I want them to hear that.”